Heart of the matter

by Henrylito D. Tacio

OFTENTIMES, we hear someone saying, “I love you will all my heart.” But the question is: do you love your heart?

Our heart, a muscular, cone-shaped organ about the size of a fist, pumps blood throughout the body. “In a normal person, the heart beats 70 times a minute, 100,000 times a day, 40,000,000 times a year!” informs Julius Miller. “During a single day, a ventricle pumps about 11,000 quarts or 265,000,000 quarts in a lifetime. If an elevator could be harnessed to this marvelous engine, you could ride from the ground floor to the fifth floor of a building in about an hour.”

Actually, the heart – which Leonardo da Vinci called as a “marvelous instrument” – is about 12 centimeters long, eight centimeters wide at its broadest part, and six centimeters thick. The weight of the heart in men averages between 280 and 340 grams and in women between 230 and 280 grams.

My medical book states that the base of the heart is the portion of the heart opposite the tip. The base is tilted to the right side of the body. It forms the upper border of the heart and lies just below the second rib.

The layers of the heart, starting from the outside, are the epicardium. The chambers of the heart include two ventricles with thick muscular walls, making up most of the organ, and two atria with thin muscular walls. An inner wall (called septum) separates the ventricles and extends between the atria, dividing the heart into the right and the left sides. The left side of the heart pumps blood with oxygen from the lung veins into the aorta and on to all part of the body.

The right side of the heart pumps blood from which the oxygen has been removed into the lung arteries. Both atria contract almost at the same time, followed quickly by the contraction of the ventricles.

A tourist was once staying at an inn in a valley in northern Italy where the floor was dirty. He though he should advise the landlady to scrub it, when he perceived that it was made of mud and the more she would scrub it, the worse it would become. So it is with our hearts; its corrupt nature will admit of no improvement; it must be made ever anew. Proverb 4:23 states: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

Heart disease, one of Asia’s biggest killers, affects only men. Fact? No, it’s fiction! In the Philippines, diseases of heart and vascular system kill almost three times as many women as all forms of cancer. In Hong Kong, cardiovascular diseases struck down nearly 2,700 women in 2000, compared to just under 400 deaths due to breast cancer.

Are you suffering from diabetes? Bad news. People with diabetes are up to four times as likely to suffer coronary heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases, according to Professor Clive Cockram, vice president of the International Diabetes Federation. Even people with newly diagnosed diabetes or simply impaired glucose levels are at risk.

Always busy and no time to sleep. You better watch out. “Sleep deprivation may potentially increase risk for the development of cardiovascular problems,” points out Dr Rafael Castillo, a consultant cardiologist at the Manila Doctors Hospital. A study done by Columbia University found that sleeping less than five hours doubled the risk of high blood pressure.

Smokers are also courting for trouble. Studies have shown that smoking on average doubles the risk of heart disease. “Other than quitting, nothing can compensate for the damage done by smoking,” says Prof. Anthony Hedley of the department of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong. Research has shown that about two to three years after you quit smoking, you risk of having a heart attack drops to that of someone who has never smoked.

Some recent studies have shown that there’s a strong link between the brain and the heart, between depression and heart disease. In the United States, depression affects about one in five heart attack survivors and slows their recovery. While doctors have known about this link for more than 15 years, more recently researchers have shown that depression is a significant risk factor for heart disease.

It’s not simply a cause-and-effect relationship, but the two conditions are definitely related,” explains Dr Sharonne Hayes, cardiologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “If you have depression, you are at higher risk of heart disease.”

What about drinking? Men with high blood pressure are usually advised to avoid alcohol, but American and Dutch researchers are saying that a drink or two every day may reduce their chances of a heart attack. “Men diagnosed with hypertension probably get a lot of advice on how to change their lifestyle, physical activity and diet.” said Dr Joline Beulens, who led the study. “This study indicates that if they drink alcohol in moderation they may not need to change their drinking habits.”

The study analyzed data from 11,711 health professionals taking part in a long-term survey between 1986 and 2002. The men who had one or two drinks a day had lower rates of fatal and nonfatal heart attacks than the others. But their overall death rate was not lower. Men who had three drinks or more a day on average were mot protected.

If you’re overweight, shed those extra pounds. Dropping just three to five kilograms can improve your heart health. “Don’t starve yourself, but eat well and get moving, doing whatever kind of exercise is fun for you,” says Dr Mehmet Oz, director of the Cardiovascular Institute at Columbia University-New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. “Go for a bike ride with your spouse, or play basketball with your kids. You’ll look and feel better, and your heart will thank you.”

Now, let’s talk about sex. “Sexual activity can provide exercise and emotional bonding,” explains Dr Oz. He cites one study which shows that having orgasms at least 100 times a year (that’s twice a week) is associated with longevity.

Sexual dysfunction, on the other hand, can be a signal of heart disease,” Dr Oz points out. “Like a dipstick, erections of the penis reflect the vascular health of a man’s heart, so trouble in that department may mean it’s time to see your doctor.” Men, take heed of this advice!

O.A. Battista once said, “The average heart specialist can usually check the condition of his patient’s heart simply by sending him a bill.”

Please, take good care of your heart! — ###


One response to “Heart of the matter

  1. Henry,

    Your blog is both informative and interesting. I never knew I would feel so pulled in by a blog about heart health. However, you seem to know your stuff to say the least.

    Because you seem to be quite health-concious, I thought you might take a minute to help out the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) by posting a banner about World Diabetes Day on your blog. The banners can be downloaded from the following address:

    This year marks the first UN-recognized World Diabetes Day, and the theme is Diabetes in Children and Adolescents. For more information, see http://www.worlddiabetesday.org.

    Kind regards,
    Stephanie Tanner
    IDF – Communications Assistant

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